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Issue 35

22 June 2005


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The Lighthouse
Feature Article


Historical references to the Assyrians and Assyria
After the Fall of Nineveh 

William Warda

Based on scant knowledge of the Assyrian history some have asserted that the contemporary Assyrians never called themselves or were known by that name, before it was bestowed on them by the Anglican missionaries, or the Archaeologist Henry Austen Layrad in the 19th century. Such statements have been repeated so often that they have been accepted as fact by the misinformed, but historical evidences prove otherwise.

Attack against the Assyrian identity in recent decades has been driven partly by misguided writers such as John Joseph, and a small segment of the Syrian Orthodox Church members who identify themselves as Arameans because their Patriarch Aprim Barsoum in 1952 decided to distance his church from its Assyrian heritage for religious and political reasons (Click here: 1 and 2).

For almost two thousands years the Old Testament was the primary source of information about the ancient Assyrians. Those who read the book of Nahum about the destruction of Nineveh had come to believe that the ancient Assyrians were defeated into extinction and Nineveh no longer existed until Layard unearthed it. However they did not notice that Nahum at the end wrote: "O king of Assyria, your nobles slumber. Your people are scattered on the mountain with none to gather them."

Being scattered on the mountain and becoming extinct are two different things, in reality Assyrians survived not only on the mountains also in the cities of the plain. For example Harran which became the capital of the Assyrians after the fall of Nineveh was attacked twice but was not seriously damaged. The same can be said about Arbil, Nissibin and other smaller and out of the way towns. Harran was a thriving city way into the Islamic era when it was destroyed by the Mongoles in the 13th century.

There is no reason to believe that Assyrians were wiped out during a short period of time. It is a known fact that nations have survived despite all attempts to destroy them. Fifty million dead during world war II did not cause the extinction of any nation. The persecution including wholesale massacres of the Jews during more than two thousand years of their history did not wipe them out. The Syriac speaking Christians of Mesopotamia, (Assyrians) of Iraq, Turkey, and Northwest Iran survived 2000 years of persecutions including repeated massacres by the Sassanian Persians, Arabs, Mongoles, Tatars, Kurds and Turks. Two third of the Assyrian population was murdered or forced into Islam between 1914 to 1919 by the combined military forces of the Kurds, Turks, Persians in an all out attempt to wipe them out but they prevailed despite their relatively small number and being concentrated in a small geographic area. The Armenians lost 1.5 million of their population at that time but they are still here.

The prominent Assyrialogist , H.W.F. Saggs, does not believe that Assyrians were defeated into extinction. He wrote: "The destruction of the Assyrian empire did not wipe out its population. They were predominantly peasant farmers, and since Assyria contains some of the best wheat land in the Near East, descendants of the Assyrian peasants would, as opportunity permitted, build new villages over the old cities and carry on with agricultural life, remembering traditions of the former cities. After seven or eight centuries and various vicissitudes, these people became Christians."(H.W.F. Saggs, "The Might that Was Assyria" p. 290) Simo Parpola believes likewise: "Assyria was a vast and densely populated country, and outside the few urban centers life went on as usual." (Simo Parpola, "Assyrians after Assyria", Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies, Vol. XIII No. 2, 1999, Chicago Ill.)

Those who express skepticism about the survival of the ancient Assyrians have done so either for malicious reasons or lack of historical knowledge. In their writing they fail to acknowledge or account for hundreds and even thousands of references to Assyrians as a living people during all centuries since the fall of Nineveh.

From the Fall of Nineveh to the down of Christianity

The Babylonian king Nabunaid 's (555-539) mother who died at the ripe age of 104, long after the fall of Nineveh, in an inscription mentions the surviving relatives and the officials of the Assyrian kings in Harran whom she accuses of not preforming food offering and libation to the graves of the monarchs who had done so much for them, but she contends that she did. (James B. Prichard, Ed., "Ancient Near Eastern Text Relating to Old Testament", Princeton University Press 1950 p. 312.) If the relatives and the officials of the Assyrian kings had survived the disaster there is no reason to believe the rest of the population was wiped out.

Other historical and archaeological discoveries attest to the survival of the Assyrians and Assyria during all centuries. Following are just few references. They have been cited as exact quotes so that this writer will not be accused of having misrepresented the intent of the original authors also allow the readers judge their meaning for themselves.

The mid 19th century translation of the Persian inscriptions attest to the existence of Assyria and Assyrians as part of the Persian empire.

The Nagshe Rostam inscription by Darius (512-48) which lists the national types of the Persian Empire includes the Assyrians . A reference to them reads as: "Iyam Asuryah", "this is an Assyrian" which is very similar to the term "Suryah" a name christian Assyrians have identified themselves by. (Sukumar Sen, "Old Persian Inscriptions of the Achamenian Emperors," University of Calcutta 1941 p. 107) The Behistun inscription of Darius in the beginning of his rule lists 23 countries as part of his empire including: "Persis, Huza (Elam), Babiru (Babylon), Athura (Assyria)...."(Josef Wiesehofer, Azizeh Azodi Trans., "Ancient Persia From 550 BC to 650 AD, I.B. Tauris Publishers, 1969.) "Proclaims Xerexes, the king: "By the favor of Ahura Meazda; these are the people/countries of which I was king of....Persia, Media, Elam, Armenia, Drangiana, parhia, Aria, Bactri a, Sogdia, Choresmia, Babylonia, ASSYRIA, Stagydia, Lydia, Egypt......" (Josef Wiesehofer, Azizeh Azodi Trans., "Ancient Persia From 550 BC to 650 AD, I.B. Tauris Publishers, 1969.) The fifth century B.C. Herodotus describes the Assyrian troops as part of the Persian empire's army of king xerexes (486-465/4): "The Assyrians went to war with helmets upon their head, made of brass, and plated in strange fashion, which is not easy to describe. .... These people, whom Greeks call Syrian, are called Assyrian by the barbarians." Assyrians and babylonians together consisted of five infantries and were led by Otaspes son of Artchaies. The Herodotus Barbarians meant the Persians, the Armenians and other none Greek.

Those who question the identity of the contemporary Assyrians justify it by the fact that they been known primarily as Syrians and Suraye during most of the christian Era. The critics seem to be unaware that after the defeat of the Persians by Alexander, his generals ruled Mesopotamia and the land west of Euphrates from 330 to 145 B.C. and called them collectively Syria which according to their historians and ordinary people it meant the Assyrian empire.

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The first century B.C. Strabo attests to this fact when he writes:" When those who have written histories about  the Syrian empire say that the Medes were overthrown by the Persians and the Syrians by the Medes, they mean by the Syrian no other people than those who built the royal palaces in Babylon and Ninus; and of these Syrians, Ninus was the man who founded Ninus [Nineveh], in Aturia..[Assyria]. (H.L. Jones Translation of "Geogtaphy of Strabo", New York 1916, Vol. VIII p.195) While one has to admit that inhabitants west of Euphrates were not Assyrians, there is no reaon to doubt the Assyrian identity of those living in the Assyria proper. According to Strabo the country of the Assyrians at his time included babylon and Aturia [Assyria]. Later he writes the name 'Syrians' extends from Babylon to the Gulf of Issus [the Mediteranean Sea]. (Strabo p.193) This was the extent of the Assyrian empire before its fall. The third century Roman historian Justinus also attests to this fact. He wrote: "The  Assyrians, who were afterwards called Syrians, held their empire thirteen hundred years." (Marcus Junianus Justinus Epitome of the Philippic, "History of Pompeius Trogus", translated by Rev. John Selby Watson. (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1853)
The above refences clearly prove that the term Syrians and Suraye applied to the inhabitants of Mesopotamia denoted Assyrians who later became Christians.

Archaeological discoveries also indicate that the Assyrian community in Ashur "[c]ontinued to worship it's national god and his consort, on the same spot as their ancestors had done before the disasters of 612 B.C., although in a new temple. As late as AD 200-28, they were using such grand old personal names as Sin/ahe/erba, even Esarhaddon...." (Malcom A.R. Colledge, "The Parthians",  Praegr, New York 1967, p.46.) Iraqi Department of Antiquities between 1951 and 1955, discovered nine temples in the city of Hatra dedicated to the Assyrian deities such as Shamash, Sin, Nergal and one to the Assyrian God, "Ashur Bel " The head of the Ashur Bel's statue found in Hatra is broken, but the remaining curled square beard  is characteristically similar to the imperial Assyrian kings. (Edward Bacon, "Digging for History", Archaeological Discoveries Throughout the World, 1945 to 1959", New York 1960, p. 205.) Excavations by a team of British archaeologist from Edinburgh University at the Eski Mosul Dam Basin in 1983 unearthed solid evidences of Assyrian survival after their defeat. A heavy Assyrian presence was detected in the area only 40 km to the north-east of Nineveh.(Associated Press report reprinted in Nineveh Magazine, Vol 7 No. 3& 4, 1984) The Christian Era Asyrians and Assyria are mentioned in the early Christian centuries in the 'Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325' aslo known as 'Ante-Nicene Fathers'. From the The Teaching of the Apostles we learn that:

"The whole of Persia, [Persian Empire] of the Assyrians, and of the Armenians, and of the Medians, and of the countries round about Babylon, the Huzites and the Gelae, as far as the borders of the Indians, and as far as the land of Gog and Magog, and moreover all the countries on all sides, received the apostles' ordination to the priesthood from Aggaeus, a maker of silks, the disciple of Addaeus (click here)."

According to The Teaching of Addaeus the Apostle "[e]ven people of the East, in the guise of merchants, passed over into the territory of the Romans, that they might see the signs which Addaeus did. And such as became disciples received from him ordination to the priesthood, and in their own country of the Assyrians they instructed the people of their nation, and erected houses of prayer there in secret, by reason of the danger from those who worshiped fire and paid reverence to water (click here)."

The second century Tatian identified himself as Assyrian. He wrote, "I was born in the land of the Assyrians (click here) "

His contemporary Lucian of Samostosa, in his "Goddess of Syria" wrote : "I that write [this] am "Assourious" [Assyrian]". (Lucian, Translated by A.M. Harmon, Vol. IV, "The godesse of Surrye", London 1925 p.339.) According to Tacitius in the winter of 50 A.D. the forces of Carenes crossed the river Tigris and entered Adiabene and "captured the city of Ninos, the most ancient capital of Assyria" prior to waging war against the Parthian king Gotarzes on behalf of Meherdates the contender to the throne. (Cornelius Tacitius, Edi. Ronert Maynard Hutchis"The Annals and The Histories"; , Copyright  Encyclopedia Britanica, Inc. 1952 p.112.) The Assyrialogist Joan Oates writes:"The site of Nineveh, a city which survives in modern Mosul, was never in fact forgotten ..."Joan Oates babylon P. 143She further adds : Nineveh which was considered by them [classical writers ] to have been in ruin after 612 B.C. we know to have been the site was a considerable city during both the Seleucid and Parthian periods [330 B.C. -224 AD]." ( Joan Oates, "Babylon", Thames and Hudson, London 1971 p. 142) In describing Trajan's 116 AD invasion o f Mesopotamia Roman Historian Dio Cassius wrote: "And the romans crossed over and gained possession of the whole of Adiabene. This is a district of Assyria in the vicinity of Ninus [Nineveh] and Arabela and Gaugamela (Goomla) near which places Alexander conquered Darius, are also in the same country.Adiabene accordingly , has been called Atyria [Attur]in the language of the barbarians, the double S being changed to T."(Dio Cassinus, Earnest Cary trans."Dio's Roman History", Book LXVIII, William Heinemann London 1955 p. 411) Even during the Sassanian dynasty of Persia (224-639 A.D.) the southern part of Mesopotamia was known as Asuristan while central Assyria was renamed Nodshiragan [Perhaps belonging to Ardashir]. It is interesting to note that while the conquerors of central Assyria Changed its name first to Adiabene and later to Nodshiragan and then to Iraq Christian inhabitants of the region continued to call it Assyria and identified themselves as Assyrian [Aturaye] side by side with Syrian [Suraye].

In an inscription lands ruled by Shapur I, (241-276 A.D.) are listed as "Fars [Persia], Pahlav [Parthia], Kuzistan, Meshan, Asuristan [southern Mesopotamia} and Nod-Ardakhshiragan [Assyria Ruled by Ardashir] ........." among others. (Josef Wiesehofer, Azizeh Azodi Trans., "Ancient Persia From 550 BC to 650 AD, I.B. Tauris Publishers, 1969.) The medeival writer Tabari indicates that Meopotamia was called Asuristan during the Sassanian period before Arab conquest of the region: "Ardashir's further advanced from Media described a large curve through Adurbadagan/Atropatene, Nodshiragan/Adiabene to Asuristan/Assyria (Iraq), where he conquered the capital of the Parthian Empire, Seleucia-Ctesiphon, probably in 226/227 (click here)."

That inhabitants of Mesopotamia were known as Assyrians by the Persians is evident in their religious book of 'Zand-i Vohuman Yasht' in the Pahlavi language. In one section it accuses the Greeks (Yunan) who ruled in Asuristan (330-145 B.C.) were slaying the [Asori] Assyrian people and destroying their abode (click here).

The Armenians who have lived side by side with the Assyrians have always called them Assori, i.e Assyrian as have other nationalities at times. According to the 19th century Badger "In many Syriac [Assyrian] manuscripts, Mosul is styled as Athur [Assyria] and it is not uncommon practice with ecclesiastical writers of the present day to use the same phraseology". (Henry Burgess, The Repentance of Nineveh, Sampso n Low: Son and Co., London 1853, p. 36n.) Gesenius writes, "In Syriac Church literature 'Athur' [Assyria] is the name of Mosul, on the bank of the Tigris opposite to Nineveh; but it also designates a metropolitan see, including Mosul, Nineveh and other towns." (Stephanie Dalley, Nineveh after 612 B.C. , Alt-Orientanlishce Forshchungen #20, 1993, p .134) While the rest of the world believed that Nineveh had been destroyed and forgotten and Assyrians no longer existed Christians of Mesopotamia knew such was not the case. For the last 2000 years Assyrians of the Church of the East, the Syrian Orthodox Church, later the Chaldean Church have observed the fast of Ninevites which is testimony to the survival of the Assyrians and their belief that they were descendants of the ancient Ninevites i.e. Assyrians. Nineveh became an important center of the Assyrian Christianity. It was presided by a long list of bishops from 554 to the late ninth century. Later its bishopry was transferred to Mosul. Mar Emmeh, the Bishop of Nineveh was elected Patriarch of the Church of the East and served in that position between A.D. 644 to 647. Ishu-Yahav was the bishop of Nineveh (627-637) when the byzantine forces forces under the command of Herculius defeated the Persians near that city in 627. He fled to his estate in the mountain during the war feering that he might be taken prisoner by the Byzanine. ((William G. Young, "Patriarch, Shah and Caliph", Christian Study Center, Rawalpindi, Pakistan 1974, p. 87) In a letter between (650-52) he invited a certain Shimoun to come and see him in nineveh. ("William young' patriarch, Shah) During his term the country was torn by wars between the Arab invaders and the Persians. Another famous bishop of Nineveh was Ishag (Isaac) Ninevaya, who served in that p osition for only six months in 660 A.D. Maran-Zakah served as bishop of Nineveh between 795-798. Other prominent citizens of Nineveh were Ehu-Bar-Noon, patriarch (820-824), Yohanan Bokht-Eshu Metropolitan of Nineveh (850 - A.D.), Annush d' Beith Garmee, Patriarch (873-884). (J.M. Fiey, O.P., Assyrie Chretienne, Imprimerie Catholique, Beyrouth, 159, pp.488-493.)
The Islamic Period

Those who have expressed doubt about the identity of the Assyrians have done so primarily as a matter of opinion and confusion of historical facts. While they can easily associate the term Indian when applied to the indigenous people of America with native Americans, they are unable to understand that Syrian when applied to the Christians of Mesopotamia means Assyrian.
This is evident in the writings by some who have some knowledge of the Christian Assyrian history. For example Gavin Menzies in his "1421 The Year China Discovered America" rightly credits the Church of the East, otherwise known as Nestorian, for having taken Christianity to China, but he claims that the church thrived in Syria during the sixth century. (Kevin Menzies, "1421 The Year China Discovered America", Harper Collins 2003 p.115) In fact the Church of the East was outlawed in the Byzantine empire including Syria. It prospered in Mesopotamia under the Persian rule and it was from Assyria that the Assyrian missionaries went to China, India and Japan.

Thimithy I (770-823), patriarch of the Church of the East in a letter to the monks of Mar Marun declares that Babylonia, Persia and Assyria, all the countries of the East, such as India and China were under his jurisdiction. (William G. Young, "Patriarch, Shah and Caliph", Christian Study Center, Rawalpindi, Pakistan 1974, p.152) When Arab Geographer Al Mas-udi visited Nineveh in 943 A.D. He described it as a complex of ruins in the middle of which there are several villages and farms, " It was to these settlements that god sent Jonah" he wrote. (Brian M. Fagan, Return to babylon, Little, Brown & Co., Canada p.18.) This statement echoed the sentiments of the Christian Assyrians. Some of the better known Assyrian villages of Nineveh were: 'Takshur', mentioned by Bar Awraya, 'Tarrut D' Nineveh ' [Gate of Nineveh], 'Ba Gabbari' [ the Braves], the birth place of Patriarch Ishu Barnon located between the walls of Nineveh and Mosul, , mentioned by Yagut in 1220 . 'Bori', where a beautiful church was built in the 7th century, consecrated by Mar Yokhanan Metropolitan of Adiabene, and 'Gorba' , a Jacobite Assyrian village. (J.M. Fiey, O.P., Assyrie Chretienne, Imprimerie Catholique, Beyrouth, 159, pp.488-493.) The translator of the "Latin history of Paulus Orosius", into Arabic about 961-976 AD, more than a thousand years ago correctly equated the Latin "Assyri" [Assyrian] with the Arabic word "al-Suryaniyyun" i.e. the Christians of Mesopotamia, Suraye and Suryoye. (Abdel Rahman Badawi Ed. "Orosius, Tarikh Al 'Alam", Al Muassasa al Ararabiyya lil Dirasat wal Nashr, Beirut, First Edition, 1982.) The 13th century Gewargis Warda Arbillaya [from Arbil] asserts that the syriac speaking people of Mesopotamia are Assyrian and Babylonians. On the occasion of the Fast of the Ninevites he wrote:

"Our lord heed the rogation (Ba-oota): of the Babylonians and Assyrians [Athouraye] Now that Church leadership is distressed and confused. Our lord heed the request (Ba-oota) of our destitute country I glorify your Godliness and ask for your forgiveness."  (Odisho Malko Gewargis, trans. Yuel A Baaba, "We are Assyrians", JAAS, Vol. XVI, Np. 1, 2002 p.84.)

For Gewargis Warda Assyrians were not just the inhabitants of the Mosul and Nineveh as it is some times claimed. He was from Arbil and considered the Christians living in northern and southern Mesopotamia as Assyrians and babylonians. While the name of the country was changed to Iraq by the Arabs since the 7th century for the Assyrians it continued to be knonw as Assyria.

The Barber geographer Ibn-Battuta, who traveled to northern Mesopotamia in the 14th century acknowledged the existence of Nineveh and wrote:"There too is the hill of Nabi Yunus, (prophet Jonah), (upon whom be peace) and about a mile from it, the spring called by his name. It is said that he commanded his followers to purify themselves in it. .... In it's vicinity is a large village, near which is a ruined site said to be the site of the city known as Nineveh, the city of 'yunus' . The remains of the encircling walls are still visible, and the position of the gates that were in it are clearly seen.". (Brian M. Fagan, Return to Babylon", Kuttke, Brown & Com., Canada, 1979, p.17) Ibn-Battuta also noted that the Nabi Yunus mosque of Nineveh was once a Christian church before being confiscated by the Arabs. This edifice still stands, according to Wigram it was once the cathedral of the independent patriarch of Nineveh or See of Nineveh. Moslems believe that the prophet Jonah is buried at that site but such is not the case.

Assyrian writer Bar Saliba a decade or two before Ibn-Battuta identified the person buried in the site as patriarch Hannan Yeshua of the church of the East who was elected to that office during the caliphate of Abd 'ool-Melek ibn Merwan, cir. AD 686. He wrote: "Hanan-Yeshua resided in the convent of the prophet Jonah, which is situated on the western side of the wall of Nineveh facing the eastern gates of Mosul, and the river Tigris separates the cities. When he died, he was buried here, in a coffin made of ebony,.." "George Percy Badger, "Nestorians and their Rituals", notes to page 87 DD) The fact that Christians of Mesopotamia considered Nineveh the capital of Assyria as an important part of their christianity despite all the hateful Old Testament references to it and they commemorated a yearly fast called the Fast of the Ninevites as a tribute to the survival of their forefathers indicates their strong dedication to their Assyrian identity.

The Vatican documents assert that when the Chaldean Church was established by Sulaga in 1553, Pope Jullius III proclaimed him patriarch of "Mosul and Athur" on Feb. 20, 1553. (Catholic Encyclopedia, "Chaldean Rite ", 1967, Vol. III, pp.427-428) Roman documents originally refer to Sulaga as the elected patriarch of "the Assyrian Nation". (Xavier Koodapuzha, "Faith and Communion in the Indian Church of Saint Thomas Christians, Oriental Institute of Religious Studies, Kerala, India, p.59) According to the Chronicle of the Carmelites Sulaga was proclaimed "Patriarch of the Eastern Assyrians" but on 19, 4, 1553 he was redefined as the "Patriarch of the Chaldeans". Perhaps the change of mind was intended to distinguish between those who joined the Catholic Church verses those who did not or may be it was a matter of associating these new Catholics with the Nestorians of Cyprus who were labeled Chaldeans by Pope Eugene IV on August 7, 1445 after they joined the Roman Catholic church. (George V. Yana (Bebla), "Myth vs. Reality" JAAStudies, Vol. XIV, No. 1, 2000 p. 80) Edward Odisho quotes Konstantin Tseretely that "Assyrians who live in the Soviet Union call themselves Assyrians and their mother tongue Assyrian, an appellation which occurs in the 18th century Georgian documents." More recently, Tseretely specifically refers to some correspondences between the Georgian King Irakli II and Mar Shimun in the years 1769 and 1770 in which Mar Shimun refers to himself as the "Assyrian Catholicos" and the King identifies Mar Shimun's people as "Assyrians." According to another source the Georgian king Irakli II in 1770's established contacts with the Yezidies and used the Assyrian Archbishop Ishaya as mediator . Irakli II sent a letter to the Yezidi leader Choban- Agha in which he proposed a none-Muslim coalition of the Yezidies, Armenians and Assyrians against the Ottoman Sultan. (Lamara Pashaeva, "Yezidi Social Life in the ocmmon wealth of Independent States" Kurdishmedia.com, Nov. 2004)

In a letter dated May 26, 1784 The Russian Colonel Stephan D. Burnashev to the Russian General Paul S. Potemkin stated that "There are 100 villages inhabited b Assyrians i the domain of the Khan of Urmiye, in addition , some 20,000 families reside withing the borders of Turkey." (George Bournoutian, "Armenians and Russia (1626-1796): A Documentary Record", Coasta Mesa, California: Mazda Publishers. Inc., 2001.) The above are just some of the hundreds and even thousands references which attest to the survival of the Assryians since the fall of Nineveh which prove that they did not vanish after their defeat. They in fact continued to live in their ancient homeland and have been there since. some however were forced to flee into the mountains north of Mosul, cities of northwest Persia and southeast Turkey i.e. the Tur-Abedin region identified as Assyria in an inscription by Darius at the time of his rule, which is correct since Harran and other cities in the region were was part of it before its fall. The idea that Christian Assryians have been called by that name only since the 19th century is absurd.

The names Suraya, Suryoyo which they have identified themselves with, the terms Syrian and Suryani others have called them by are obvious varriations for Asuraya and Assyrian. If the nationality of a people is based on a common descent, shared language, history, culture, well known historical homeland, and other aspects of nationality Assyrians clearly fit that description. They have called themselves Assyrians, they have lived in the homeland of the ancient Assyrians since before the fall of Nineveh and have identified their country as Assyria and have considered the ruins of its ancient capital as their sacred city during the Christian centuries. No one in good conscious can deny this.

By the 19th century not one ancient city or town in southern Iraq was called by its ancient name but in northern Iraq the Assyrians cities and towns are still called as they were before the fall of Nineveh. Arbil; Assyrian Araba-illu, Tikrit; Assyrian Tikriti, Kirkuk; Assyrian 'Kirkha d' beit Suluk' or Arrapha. Nineveh; Assyrian Nineveh, Harran; Assyrian Harranu, Nissibin; Assyrian Nissibini, Alqoush; Assyrian Alquoushtu, Karmalish, Assyrian Kar-Mullissi, Mosul; Mespilla.

The survival of these names indicates a continuous inhabitation of the same people from before the fall of Nineveh to present. If there was a compete destruction of these cities and their Assyrian inhabitants no longer existed thier later settlers of a foreign origin would have given their towns and cities names compatible with their own culture and language as it happened in the south. The majority inhabitants in northern Iraq are now Arabs and Kurds but they arrived there gradually after the 9th century A.D. and Assyrians have continued to live there till now, therefore the ancient names have been preserved to this day.

In many ways today's Assyrians' national identity is far more certain than that of other nations who are a composite of dozens of various people. Unlike others Assyrians after their fall did not have a military or political powers to force their identity on others.

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Good Morning Assyria
News From the Homeland


Christian Evangelicals Building a Base in Iraq

Newcomers Raise Worry Among Traditional Church Leaders

Courtesy of the Washington Post
23 June 2005
By Caryle Murphy; Special correspondent Bassam Sebti contributed to this report

(ZNDA: Baghdad)  With arms outstretched, the congregation at National Evangelical Baptist Church belted out a praise hymn backed up by drums, electric guitar and keyboard. In the corner, slide images of Jesus filled a large screen. A simple white cross of wood adorned the stage, and worshipers sprinkled the pastor's Bible-based sermon with approving shouts of "Ameen!"

National is Iraq's first Baptist congregation and one of at least seven new Christian evangelical churches established in Baghdad in the past two years. Its Sunday afternoon service, in a building behind a house on a quiet street, draws a couple of hundred worshipers who like the lively music and focus on the Bible.

"I'm thirsty for this kind of church," Suhaila Tawfik, a veterinarian who was raised Catholic, said at a recent service. "I want to go deep in understanding the Bible."

Pastor Nabil A. Sara, dressed in black at right, greets members of the congregation after Sunday services at National Evangelical Baptist Church.  Photo Credit: By Caryle Murphy -- The Washington Post

Tawfik is not alone. The U.S.-led toppling of Saddam Hussein, who limited the establishment of new denominations, has altered the religious landscape of predominantly Muslim Iraq. A newly energized Christian evangelical activism here, supported by Western and other foreign evangelicals, is now challenging the dominance of Iraq's long-established Christian denominations and drawing complaints from Muslim and Christian religious leaders about a threat to the status quo.

The evangelicals' numbers are not large -- perhaps a few thousand -- in the context of Iraq's estimated 800,000 Christians. But they are emerging at a time when the country's traditional churches have lost their privileged Hussein-era status and have experienced massive depletions of their flocks because of decades-long emigration. Now, traditional church leaders see the new evangelical churches filling up, not so much with Muslim converts but with Christians like Tawfik seeking a new kind of worship experience.

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"The way the preachers arrived here . . . with soldiers . . . was not a good thing," said Baghdad's Roman Catholic archbishop, Jean Sleiman. "I think they had the intention that they could convert Muslims, though Christians didn't do it here for 2,000 years."

"In the end," Sleiman said, "they are seducing Christians from other churches."

Iraq's new churches are part of Christian evangelicalism's growing presence in several Middle Eastern countries, experts say. In neighboring Jordan, for example, "the indigenous evangelical presence is growing and thriving," said Todd M. Johnson, a scholar of global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts.

Nabeeh Abbassi, president of the Jordan Baptist Convention, said in an interview in Amman that there are about 10,000 evangelicals worshiping at 50 churches in Jordan. They include 20 Baptist churches with a combined regular Sunday attendance of 5,000, he added. The organization also operates the Baptist School of Amman, where 40 percent of the student body is Muslim.

While most evangelicals in Jordan come from traditional Christian denominations, Abbassi said, "we're seeing more and more Muslim conversions, not less than 500 a year" over the past 10 years.

Iraq's Christian population has been organized for centuries into denominations such as Chaldean Catholicism and Roman Catholicism. While Hussein's secular regime allowed freedom of worship, it limited new denominations, particularly if backed by Western churches.

During the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, American evangelicals made no secret of their desire to follow the troops. Samaritan's Purse, the global relief organization led by the Rev. Franklin Graham -- who has called Islam an "evil and wicked" religion -- and the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, the country's largest Protestant denomination, were among those that mobilized missionaries and relief supplies.

Soon after Hussein's fall, they entered the country, saying their prime task was to provide Iraqis with humanitarian aid. But their strong emphasis on sharing their faith raised concerns among Muslims and some Christians that they would openly proselytize.

Then the security environment deteriorated in Iraq -- four Southern Baptist missionaries were killed, Westerners were kidnapped and at least 21 churches were bombed -- forcing most foreign evangelicals to flee. But Iraqi evangelicals remain.

"For Christians, it's now democratic," said Nabil A. Sara, 60, the pastor at National Evangelical Baptist. "It's not like before. There is freedom now. Nobody can say, 'Why do you start a new church?' "

Some church leaders, however, are asking that very question.

"Evangelicals come here and I would like to ask: Why do you come here? For what reason?" said Patriarch Emmanuel Delly, head of the Eastern rite Chaldean Catholic Church, Iraq's largest Christian community.

In interviews, Delly and Sleiman were torn between their belief in religious freedom and the threat they see from the new evangelicalism. They also expressed anger and resentment at what they perceive as the evangelicals' assumption that members of old-line denominations are not true Christians.

"If we are not Christians, you should tell us so we will find the right path," Delly said sarcastically. "I'm not against the evangelicals. If they go to an atheist country to promote Christ, we would help them ourselves."

Sleiman charged that the new churches were sowing "a new division" among Christians because "churches here mean a big community with tradition, language and culture, not simply a building with some people worshiping. If you want to help Christians here, help through the churches [already] here."

Still, the Roman Catholic prelate said he could not oppose the evangelicals because "we ask for freedom of conscience." He also said he respected how they appear "ready to die" for their beliefs. "Sometimes I'm telling myself they are more zealous than me, and we can profit from this positive dimension of their mission."

Some Iraqi Christians expressed fear that the evangelicals would undermine Christian-Muslim harmony here, which rests on a long-standing, tacit agreement not to proselytize each other. "There is an informal agreement that says we have nothing to do with your religion and faith," said Yonadam Kanna, one of six Christians elected to Iraq's parliament. "We are brothers but we don't interfere in your religion."

Delly said that "even if a Muslim comes to me and said, 'I want to be Christian,' I would not accept. I would tell him to go back and try to be a good Muslim and God will accept you." Trying to convert Muslims to Christianity, he added, "is not acceptable."

Sheik Fatih Kashif Ghitaa, a prominent Shiite Muslim leader in Baghdad, was among those who expressed alarm at the postwar influx of foreign missionaries. In a recent interview, he said he feared that Muslims misunderstand why many Christians talk about their faith.

"They have to talk about Jesus and what Jesus has done. This is one of the principles of believing in Christianity," said Ghitaa. "But the problem is that the others don't understand it, they think these people are coming to convert them."

Robert Fetherlin, vice president for international ministries at Colorado-based Christian and Missionary Alliance, which supports one of the new Baghdad evangelical churches, defended his denomination's overseas work.

"We're not trying to coerce people to follow Christ," he said. "But we want to at least communicate to people who He is. We feel very encouraged by the possibility for people in Iraq to have the freedom to make choices about what belief system they want to buy into."

Sara said that if Muslims approach him with "questions about Jesus and about the Bible," he responds. But the white-haired pastor said there was plenty of evangelizing to be done among Christians because, in his view, many do not really know Jesus. "They know [Him] just in name," he said, adding that they need a better understanding of "why He died for them."

His church appeals to dissatisfied Christians, he said, adding, "If you go to a Catholic church, for example, there is no Bible in the church, there is no preaching, and just a little singing."

National congregant Zeena Woodman, 30, who was raised in the Syrian Orthodox Church, agreed. "Praising Jesus Christ in this church is not as traditional as other churches," she said. "It's much more interesting here."

Sara, a former Presbyterian who started an underground evangelical church in his home after having a born-again experience, began working openly during the U.S. occupation. In January 2004, he was ordained pastor of his church in a ceremony attended by more than 20 Baptist pastors and deacons from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and the United States. Baptist communities in these countries financially support National Evangelical, Sara said.

The church's name and a white cross are visible from the street. The pastor said that no one has threatened the church and that it has good relations with its Muslim neighbors.

In fact, said Sara, "Muslims across the street came and asked us to pray for their mother."

Democracy for Iraq and Autonomy for Kurdistan

Zinda:  The following are excerpts from the acceptance speech by Mr. Masoud Barzani, the first President of the autonomous Kurdish region in north Iraq, delivered at his inaugural ceremony in the Kurdistan National Assembly in Arbil, on 14 June 2005.  In his speech Mr. Barzani emphasized the formation of the new autonomous region as "Kurdistan" and guaranteed the creation of a new economic, social, and political infrastructure independent but integrated within a federal Iraqi arrangement.  These excerpts were selected for their importance relative to the current Assyrian conditions in north Iraq.

  • It is time now to rebuild a new Iraq on the basis of federalism, democracy, pluralism, in which the rule of law is supreme. The new Iraq should be based on voluntary coexistence between the two main nationalities, Kurds and Arabs. All Iraqi citizens, whatever their ethnicity and religious persuasion, should feel this country is their own in which their rights and responsibilities are clearly stated.
  • The safety, dignity, and property of all Iraqis must be protected. Iraq should occupy its proper place in the international community. We fully support all efforts conducive to this end, and stand by any government committed to these goals.
  • In the Kurdistan region there is no discrimination of its citizens, no matter what their ethnic or racial origins may be. They are all equal in both rights and responsibilities. Turkomen and ChaldoAssyrians are our respected brothers and sisters, and we will do whatever is within our capability and authority for the sake of their well-being. We all live together on this land. Our destiny, our joys and sorrows, are common. We consider ourselves their advocates and defenders of their rights.
  • All our various religions and sects should be respected. In Kurdistan, all religions are fully free and are viewed equally.
  • A comprehensive plan should be developed to reconstruct the villages of Kurdistan, provide essential services, and help rehabilitate their economies. The Iraqi regime, aiming to direct a crushing blow to our revolution and to Kurdistan’s economy, razed thousands of villages and deported their inhabitants because they were sanctuaries and bases for the peshmerga and our revolution.
  • As for the question of Kirkuk, a genuine solution has been stipulated in the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL). We will not agree to any other solution. This is an agreement, signed into law by all of us. It must be applied without further delay. Article-58 of the TAL is a serious issue and we will not accept retreat in this regard. Similarly, all other detached areas should be returned because they are integral parts of Kurdistan.
  • Writing the new constitution is an important step, and all Iraqi constituencies should participate in its drafting. The constitution should also be founded on agreement and consensus to reflect the federal democratic identity of Iraq.
  • will do everything in consultation and exchange of views with my respected brother Mam Jalal. He may be in Baghdad and I here, but that does not mean we do not communicate and we are unaware of each other. On the contrary, neither will take a unilateral step.

World Monument Fund Names All of Iraq as an Endangered Cultural Site

Courtesy of Voice of America
21 June 2004
By Barbara Schoetzau

Mufeed Muhammad Jawad Al Jazairee holds the "Warka Mask," a 3100 BC Sumerian artifact which was looted from the Iraq national Museum in the final days of Saddam Hussein's regime (later returned by police)

For the first time ever, the World Monument Fund has named an entire country, Iraq, to its watch list of the world's most endangered architectural and cultural sites.

The preservation group says every significant cultural site in Iraq is at risk today and there are no ways to effectively mobilize protection. As a result, World Monument Fund president Bonnie Burnham says the group decided that listing the entire nation seemed a reasonable response.

"It represents a range of sites and situations that we are concerned about today,” she said. “Looting at the archeological sites around the country, direct conflict as with the minaret of Samara that was bombed because of snipers using the site, recovery from years of isolation and jeopardy for the monuments and sites such as Babylon, which has also been occupied recently by military forces and looting of the monumental remains at Nineveh, the great Assyrian capital."

Iraq's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Feisal Amin al-Istrabadi, says Iraqis take the issue of cultural heritage seriously.

"We have been subject to decades of mismanagement and wars and repeated instances of looting,” he noted. “So the efforts of organizations such as the World Monument Fund are imperative to us to preserve not only our heritage, but truly the heritage of the world."

Many of the sites listed on the 2006 watch list encompass entire areas instead of particular structures, including Egypt's Valley of the Kings, the historic town of Massawa in Eritrea, a terraced town on the banks of the Yellow River in China, and the historic center of Mexico City. Ms. Burhham says the 2006 list also includes the oldest mosque in Afghanistan and traditional houses on stilts in Indonesia that survived the tsunami in spite of being located close to the earthquake epicenter.

"We hope that the fact that these buildings came through the earthquake will help to encourage the local community to take a greater interest in replicating and preserving these buildings," she added.

The 2006 Watch List also puts an uncommon emphasis on preserving 20th century structures that Ms. Burnham says deserve better recognition. Included are a controversial museum in New York designed by the architect Edward Durrell Stone and the studio and home of Russian architect Constantine Melnikov.

"With the escalating real estate values in Moscow and the lack of regard by the city administration even to protect some of the city's older monuments, there has been a great deal of destruction of what we consider to be primary architectural sites," he said.

The World Monument Fund was set up in 1965 in response to floods that threatened Venice, Italy. The group began its Watch List, which it issues every other year ago, 10 years ago to call attention to architectural and cultural sites in peril and help attract financial and technical support.

Mystery Shrouds Iraq's Missing Artefacts

Courtesy of Agençe France-Presse
23 June 2005
By Charles Onians

(ZNDA:  Damascus)  Archaeological sites in southern Iraq have been systematically looted for over two years, but experts say the dig will have to go much deeper to find out where thousands of lost artefacts have ended up.

"The complete lack of knowledge is devastating," says Professor Elizabeth Stone, of Stony Brook University, a US researcher who has spent years excavating the Old Babylonian city of Mashkan Shapir.

"One article said that a billion Iraqi dinars worth of artefacts had been smuggled to Syria, but that's absurd. We just don't know what's gone," she says.

Jordan, which shares a large border with Iraq, has seized 1347 looted Iraqi antiquities like these since the war (Image: Reuters/Ali Jarekji)

The mystery has emerged as new site protection forces finally begin to make a dent in thefts from the cradle of civilisation, rampant since the US-led invasion of March 2003.

But experts say it may be years before the riddle is solved.

Meanwhile, artefacts are surprisingly absent from the ever-hungry illegal market.

"Artefacts aren't turning up yet," says Assistant Professor Seth Richardson, a historian at Chicago's Oriental Institute.

"The market's too hot. People don't want to trade them, for good reasons and bad.

"We'll probably have to wait four or five years for this stuff to turn up. And it could be anywhere: London, New York, Geneva, Tokyo."

What is known is the breadth of looting, with satellite images showing ancient sites turned into chessboards of square-shaped holes.

Guarding Babylon

Polish soldiers guard a multi-national brigade base near a palace built by Saddam Hussein at the ancient Iraqi site of Babylon (Image: Reuters/Nikola Solic)
"There's been more dirt moved after the [2003] war by looters than there ever was by archaeologists and looters combined before the war," says Stone.

On the ground, archaeologist Abdal Amir Hamdani, in charge of antiquities for Dhi Qar province, home to some of Iraq's most famous archaeological sites, says his focus has shifted from looters to smugglers.

Hamdani uses what he calls a "hunting dog", a former looter turned paid informant, who follows up rumours and goes out with a digital camera and global positioning system (GPS) equipment to locate and mark smugglers' houses.

Italian carabinieri forces disguised as Bedouin then go with Hamdani to carry out often fruitful raids.

Polish soldiers guard a multi-national brigade base near a palace built by Saddam Hussein at the ancient Iraqi site of Babylon (Image: Reuters/Nikola Solic)

"This is the war within the war, the forgotten war," he says of his dangerous job.

A dangerous mission

Last October, eight Iraqi customs officers were found dead and their recently seized cargo of antiquities disappeared on the road to Baghdad.

Al-Fajir, 100 kilometres north of Hamdani's base in Nassiriyah, is rife with smugglers and dealers, he says, and 60 suspect homes in the small town of 10,000 have already been identified.

Hamdani shows photos of seized artefacts: Parthian glasswork, Sumerian statues and erotic images on temple tablets, hundreds of coins, gold jewellery and bowls inscribed in ancient Aramaic, some clumsily glued together, damaged forever.

"I don't know how much they're worth to a dealer," says Hamdani. "To me, they're priceless."

He laments what he says are lax sentences of two or three years handed down to smugglers.

"It's not enough. They should be getting 10 years or more. I would like to kill them, but then what happens to human rights in this country?"

Keeping it in the family

Stone says that families in the area have been selling artefacts for generations, but the lawlessness of recent years combined with increased demand from the West, Japan and Israel has made them more daring.

"You can see the purposefulness of it. People are very well-organised. They come with food and water and guns. That's different from what Iraq has always had, farmers and villagers coming to take something to sell at the local souk.

Assyrian bull

Iraq is full of archaeological riches. Shown here Iraqi guard Abed Atiya al-Shemari leaning on an Assyrian human-headed winged bull at Baghdad's National Museum (Image: Reuters/Faleh Kheiber)

Iraq is full of archaeological riches. Shown here Iraqi guard Abed Atiya al-Shemari leaning on an Assyrian human-headed winged bull at Baghdad's National Museum (Image: Reuters/Faleh Kheiber)
"The assumption is that they won't have to hold onto it for 100 years. But some families have been doing it for generations and might think their grandchildren will sell it. There must be warehouses bursting with the stuff," she says.

"It will start coming onto the market when people decide authorities can't be bothered to prosecute anymore."

While the director of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, Donny George, says that an object sold by a farmer in Baghdad for $US50 dollars can fetch "US$200,000 to US$300,000 dollars in New York", the financial loss pales in comparison to the cultural one.

"The frightening thing is objects going to private collectors, where they are hidden, just for investment, like hoarding gold," says George.

He says ill-informed buyers in the West, such as the man who paid US$80,000 dollars for a non-descript cylinder seal, are also inflating prices and inspiring more thieves.

"They've been taking out at least 3000 tablets a week, by the truckload. That's got to be 400 to 500 dissertations," says Richardson, adding that some looters die when the tunnels they use collapse, becoming artifacts themselves.

Iraq currently has 12,000 registered archaeological sites, but once the whole country has been surveyed, that number will jump to 100,000, says George.

Hamdani says there are 800 sites around Nassiriyah alone, with 200 site protection forces to patrol them in just seven vehicles.

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Attackers Threaten Assyrians in Qamishly, Demand Kurdish Autonomy

Courtesy of Elaph
6 June 6 2005

(ZNDA: Damascus)  On Sunday, 5 June a series of peaceful demonstrations held by the Kurdish groups in the Syrian city of Qamishly where a significant Assyrian population resides, turned violent. 

According to eyewitnesses many stores were looted and guys were fired.

Kurdish armed men, carrying banners reading "No Arabs, No Suryan (Assyrians).  This is Kurdistan", also killed a Syrian security personnel during the events.

The protestors, demanding a Kurdish state in Syria, lowered the Syrian national flag from buildings and raised the Kurdish flags.

The Kurdish mob has previously also threatened the store owners in Qamishly to close their stores on the demonstration day or face the consequences.

Mar Delly & Mar Dinkha Meet in Chicago

Courtesy of the Assyrian International News Agency [Chicago meeting] & Bethil.org [photo]
18 June 2005

Patriarchal Summit:  Mar Emmanuel Delly (standing) and Mar Dinkha IV met in Chicago. 

(ZNDA: Chicago)  The Patriarch of the Chaldean Church of Babylon (a Roman Catholic uniate), Mar Emanuel III Dally and the Patriarch of the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East, Mar Dinkha IV, met in Chicago on June 17th.

The two Patriarchs exchanged cordial speeches in which they expressed their agreement that their parishioners are one people and must be unified with the Church of Rome.

Earlier in the week, a coalition of Assyrian political and cultural organizations sent a letter urging the patriarchs to meet and discuss issues facing members of both churches (see last issue).

Mar Dinkha recently arrived from a month-long trip to Iran, where he met with several Iranian officials, including the presidential candidate Iyatollah Rafsanjani.  On Monday Iran’s Assyrians issued a statement announcing their support for Rafsanjani in the runoff election.  “As loyal citizens of Iran and in an effort to uphold democracy in the country, these groups will establish a serious presence in the runoff election and vote for Iran’s freedom, development, and honor by supporting Hashemi Rafsanjani,” read part of the statement.

Assyrian Brothers Delivering Democracy

Courtesy of the Daily Herald
19 June 2005
By Stacy St. Clair

On the day of Iraq’s first free election, Hedy Dagher’s heart swelled with the pride of a patriot and the fear of a parent.

How many times had the Wheeling woman explained the importance of a free Iraq to her sons when they were young?

How often had she explained what a democracy would mean to their long-suffering people?

She cast her historic ballot knowing her sons had listened. At that very moment, both men were playing roles in the execution of the country’s first true election. As she watched their selflessness bear fruit, Hedy Dagher had just one nagging question left: Would her boys be safe in the process?

Brothers Pete and Dan Dagher, who grew up amid the Chicago suburbs’ Assyrian community, both played significant roles in helping Iraq realize its first democratic election. Iraqis voted in their homeland and in polling sites across the globe, including Rosemont. Iraqis in the United States celebrated the vote, such as at a rally in Modesto, California.

The eldest, Dan, was in Iraq serving with the U.S. Air Force. The 41-year-old father of two had volunteered to fly security missions that day, transporting military supplies across the war-torn country.

As Lt. Col. Dan Dagher took to the skies, Hedy Dagher’s younger son, Pete, helped Iraqis cast absentee ballots in Rosemont.

Separated by 6,000 miles, the brothers were united by a historic, familial and patriotic cause: Bringing democracy to their mother’s homeland.

The family united again nearly five months later to reflect upon the event they hope will eventually bring stability to Iraq. Hedy Dagher finally can talk openly about the election — now that Dan’s home and both her sons are safe.

“That day,” she said, “was like a dream.”

An American story

Hedy Dagher, a single mother, raised her sons amid the Chicago area’s thriving Assyrian community. Like many first-generation Americans, they grew up with a deep affection for their mother’s adopted country and an appreciation for their ancestors’ struggles.

Assyrians, as the brothers learned at an early age, have struggled since biblical times.

Their mother had grown up in Baghdad, where Assyrians remain an ethnic minority. She left in 1958, seeking freedom and economic opportunity in the United States.

Saddam Hussein rose to power 10 years later, unleashing nearly four decades of misery on her people. The largely Christian community could not teach in its native language and was never fully recognized by the government.

Christians could convert to Islam, but Muslims were forbidden from becoming Christians. Meanwhile, Saddam forced Assyrians, who do not consider themselves Arabs, to declare themselves such in an act of ethnic cleansing meant to stoke a fervent nationalist ideology.

An estimated 1.5 million Assyrians still live in Iraq, their native and biblical home. Another 4 million live outside the country, having fled after centuries of religious persecution.

About 80,000 live in the Chicago area. Nearly 25 percent were eligible to vote in the Iraq election last January.

Neither Dan nor Pete Dagher, however, could cast a ballot. Despite their mother’s nationality, Iraq’s laws prevented them from voting because their father was born in Lebanon.

Their ineligibility never bothered them. The brothers’ American citizenship fueled their commitment as much as the family’s Assyrian heritage.

“I’m doing this for the United States,” Pete Dagher said. “If we get this country to be a democracy, we don’t ever have to go back and fight a third war there.”

They found comfort and inspiration in the family’s efforts to ease Iraq’s burden. Mother voting, one son protecting, the other poll-watching.

“It made me feel a lot closer to home,” Dan Dagher said while recently visiting his mother in Wheeling. “It’s like looking at the same moon. You know they’re participating in the same thing half a world away.”

To help write history

Pete Dagher, 39, a former Congressional candidate who worked for the Clinton administration, volunteered to be an election judge overseeing absentee ballots.

Organizers later tapped him to manage the voting in Rosemont, one of only two polling sites in the upper Midwest.

He helped nearly 1,200 expatriates cast votes over a three-day weekend, while handling security concerns and administrative duties at the site.

Homeland hostilities, however, quickly manifested themselves in stateside voting. Kurds thought they were being mistreated because they couldn’t campaign at the polling site. Local Assyrians complained there hadn’t been enough voter outreach in their community.

When the International Office of Migration — the U.N.-sanctioned group overseeing the absentee voting — became flustered by the task, Pete Dagher stepped forward to ease political tensions among local Iraqis and serve as a media liaison.

Worried the high-profile position would make her son a target, Hedy Dagher cringed when he appeared on television or in local newspapers. Pete Dagher believed himself safe, but asked reporters not to mention his brother’s deployment.

He didn’t want to put Dan in any more danger by flaunting the fact that an Air Force officer in Iraq had a brother running stateside voting. The family was all too aware a violent faction in the country didn’t want Americans there and had vowed to thwart the elections by any means necessary.

The stakes became even higher when a British Royal Air Force C-130 transport plane — the same type of aircraft Dan Dagher pilots — crashed on the day before the election. All 10 people onboard died.

“People said we were brave to help with the voting,” Pete Dagher said. “But the worst thing that could have happened to me was being called some names. My brother could have been killed.”

Dan Dagher doesn’t let his younger brother diminish his contribution to Iraqi democracy.

“I knew what he was doing, and I was proud of what he was doing,” he said. “It’s not often you have a chance to help write history.”

The face of America

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Dan Dagher, though, has had ample opportunity to shape history. In his 18 years with the Air Force, the Gulf War veteran has flown high-risk missions in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Rwanda and Iraq.

He was stationed at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, but was not in the building at the time of the attack. His unit was deployed the very next day and has been on continuous deployment ever since.

Dagher’s squadron, the 50th Airlift, spent several months in Afghanistan before being sent to Iraq in October of 2004. They arrived in his mother’s homeland with orders to fly transport missions and teach the Iraqi air force to pilot the three C-130 planes donated by the United States.

The transport missions were critical because they reduced the need for convoys, a favorite target of local insurgents. By using planes instead of trucks to move people and supplies, the military could prevent many deaths.

“I was really proud to be doing that,” said Dan Dagher, who commanded roughly 250 airmen. “It gave our guys a sense of purpose.”

Dagher, who was stationed in southeastern Iraq, had not stepped foot in the country since his family last visited in 1977. His mother’s sister still lives in Baghdad, but he never considered visiting her.

He feared for both of their safety if insurgents discovered her nephew was a U.S. military officer.

“We didn’t even tell her I was there,” he said, “because I knew she would try to come see me and that would have been too dangerous.”

Dan Dagher, though, did not hide his heritage while in the country. The Iraqi air force pilots he trained all knew of his background and it helped foster friendships between the two groups.

In months leading up to the elections, Iraqi Christians endured assassinations and kidnappings. More than 60,000 Christians have fled Mosul, the modern city that surrounds the Assyrian capital of Nineveh.

Dagher, however, said he experienced no hostility from the Iraqi pilots with whom he worked. To the contrary, they appreciated his heritage because he could speak to them in Arabic.

As in most cultures, the Iraqis found it easier to trust someone who looked and talked like them. It reassured them even more to see an American of Middle Eastern descent serving as a high-ranking U.S. officer.

“We were the face of America to them,” he said. “If the face of America looked different, it might not have gone as smoothly as it did.”

The Iraqi pilots — many of whom had more flying experience than their American counterparts — quickly learned how to handle the C-130s, Dagher said. Keeping their identities hidden, however, was a much more arduous task.

The men spent weeks training in secrecy, as they attempted to rebuild the country’s air force. They told no one of their efforts for fear insurgents would learn they were working with the Americans.

With the threat of rebel attacks looming on Election Day, the Iraqi pilots were spirited away to secret locations to cast ballots. Dagher, for his part, volunteered to fly that morning in an effort to protect both his men and Iraq’s fragile democratic process.

He wanted to be at the controls of the aircraft, doing everything he could to complete the mission quickly and safely.

“If anything would have gone wrong, it would have been not only a personal tragedy but also threaten the entire process,” he said. “One small event would have had huge implications.”

Dagher spent much of the historic weekend flying election officials to polling sites. Insurgents shot anti-aircraft missiles at a plane under his command but caused no severe damage.

Though Iraqis celebrated their small taste of democracy, Dagher didn’t join in the revelry. He was too concerned about his squadron’s safety and 11th-hour attacks to enjoy the festive mood.

“I can’t say I was elated,” he said. “I was happy for the Iraqi people because it was so important to them. But I was more worried about my men.”

Six thousand miles away in Rosemont, Pete Dagher wasn’t celebrating, either. Local election workers gathered to toast the election’s surprise success, but he didn’t feel like rejoicing.

He sat outside the party for 45 minutes, futilely trying to talk himself into going inside. Still haunted by the Royal Air Force’s C-130 crash, he decided he couldn’t do it.

“I couldn’t be happy at that moment,” he said. “I knew there were British families getting knocks on the door at that very moment.”

Helping a country

Five months later, the two brothers sit at the dining room table of their mother’s Wheeling home. They joke and tease each other, downplaying their role in Iraq’s fledgling democracy.

Their mother, however, doesn’t let them gloss over the importance of their efforts.

She recalls a once-prosperous and stable Iraq where Muslims, Jews and Christians lived as neighbors. She prays it will one day return to its old ways, thanks in small part to the selflessness of her two boys.

“They did their jobs well,” she said. “I am so proud of both of them.”

The significance of a free Iraq, however, escapes the next generation of Daghers. As Dan Dagher shows photographs of his time in Iraq, his 10-year-old daughter, Alex, climbs onto his lap and questions the war.

“Are we trying to hurt Iraqis or help them?” she asks.

Dagher stops to describe how the military has improved life for many Iraqis. He gently explains why insurgents are angered by the American presence and why many Iraqis — people like his aunt and cousins — have freedoms they didn’t have before.

He instills in her a sense of history and purpose, much like his mother did when he was a boy.

“We’re helping them,” he tells her. “We’re helping a country move toward the things it wants.”

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Your Letters to the Editor


Zinda Misuses its Position

Kamil Kunda

I sent you an email protesting against choosing Mr Dadesho as the ChaldoAssyrian of the year, as a matter of fact that was an insult for all our people who really believe in unity of our nation. I asked you to cancel my substription; anyhow you didn't.

Now I would like to tell you that it is time for Zinda to be the leader in unity and not the participant in division of our nation. There is a fact that the history is one thing and reality is another thing. Our people are believing in different names and that is our problem, so instead of finding a solution to this problem, many groups are enlarging it, and certainly you are one of them by insisting on Assyrian as the only name for our nation and more for our language.

Please do consider your stand on this issue and help our people in Beth Nahrain to achieve a better solution for their crisis. Just to bear in your mind that all our decisions as a nation are in Beth Nahrain and not with us who sit behind the computers and write, while these people are holding their souls in their hands each day. I do admire your work but let it be in a better way and be unifying people instead of encouraging the separists such as Sargon Dadesho.

Thank you and I am looking forward to hearing from you.

Zinda:  The contest is titled the "Assyrian of the Year".  The language spoken by Assyrians (also known as Chaldeans and Syriacs) is Syriac or Neo-Aramaic.  Zinda Magazine will continue to defend the name "Assyrian", not as the only national name, rather the only political identity of the Syriac-speaking Christian nation of Assyria.  The grouping term "ChaldoAssyrian" refers to the Syriac-speaking population of Iraq who include the members of the Assyrian, Chaldean, and Syrian churches.  Zinda Magazine has never before used the term "ChaldoAssyrian" in referrence to the Assyrian communities and populations outside of Iraq.  Our readers and contributors are free to otherwise use this term in their essays and letters; these views do not represent the opinon of Zinda Magazine.

Beware the Trojan Horse

Nadia Porter

Well written Mr. Fred Aprim.  If these so-called Moslem Assyrians are so proud of their Assyrian heritage that they want to reclaim it, then they should revert back to the language and the faith of the Assyrian heritage. Otherwise forget it. In no time they will intermarry, breed like rabbits and take over.

Once bitten twice shy...

Keep up the good work.

As the result of ou readers' response to a request in last issue below we present an updated list of the books written and published by Shamasha Gewargis Beth Benyamin D’Asheeta:

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Editor's Pick


Nestorians & the Legacy of Genghis Khan

Courtesy of the Pacific News Service
20 June 2005
By Franz Schurmann

Genghis Khan, aka Chingis Khan (1172-1227), was the greatest of all shamans. He and his sons and grandsons conquered just about every country in the Eastern hemisphere. But as a shaman -- people in touch with the spirit world who serve as both healers and priests -- the Mongol ruler showed the legacy of shamans as actors in history.


Sunday, June 26
2:00 - 7:00 pm
at the
Assyrian American Association of Southern California
5901 Cahuenga Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA 91601
(818) 506-7577

Free to Public

Rare classic books, Bibles, Maps, Syriac books, Contemporary

History books and documents will be on exhibit.

Authors and Book vendors are welcome to participate. Free space will be provided.

Applications for upcoming AAASC's Paul Alex Youhanan Scholarships will be available.

Shamans worship heaven and earth. They go up mountains to be close to one God or several gods. And they have a special relationship with death. Though many expeditions have been launched to find Genghis Khan's grave, none have found his bones or coffin. It's possible that he was not buried or cremated, and that his corpse became animal fodder in the funeral rite of "sky-burial," as is common among Zoroastrians, Tibetans and Mongolians.

Shamans have also created new forms of writing. The Prophet Muhammad, for example, created a new script for the Arabic language. Genghis Khan also adapted a new alphabet from his mother and his wives who were Nestorian Christians, followers of Nestor, a fifth century preacher from Constantinople. In the seventh century, Nestorian churches could be seen all over northern and western China, where the people still spoke Turkic and Iranian languages.

Genghis Khan made an important change to his alphabet. He swiveled the Syrian alphabet 90 degrees to look like classical Chinese texts that read from top to bottom. "To obtain knowledge, travel into China," the Prophet Muhammad had once said.

When in 1206 Genghis Khan discarded his childhood name Temujin (possibly a Turkic word meaning "iron"), the heads of tribes who spoke several languages bestowed on him a word that in English can be rendered "Oceanic."

There are no oceans in Mongolia, but there are in the world's biggest and oldest empire, China. Long before the 13th century, the Chinese believed the world was flat and surrounded by four oceans.

But in the 13th century there were at most 200,000 Mongols spread among many tribes. The generally reliable Chinese records make no mention of the Mongols until the mid 12th century.

In the year 1258 Genghis Khan's grandson Hulegu destroyed Baghdad and, with it, the Sunni Caliphate (successors to the Prophet Muhammad). By the mid-14th century, when the wave of conquests subsided, the big winners were Muslims in Asia and Africa, and the big losers were Christians in Europe.

How was it that a small population was able to conquer most of the countries of the Eastern Hemisphere, let alone destroy the Sunni Caliphate? The answer is that while the Mongols were the elite, they also drew in many soldiers who craved plunder and were also intrigued by these strange people who had won victory after victory.

Meanwhile as Genghis Khan and his descendants set up their empire, the numerous Nestorian churches and stone steles all over China dating back to 781 also vanished.

Why did the Turks plus a large number of Chinese converts suddenly abandon Nestorian Christianity and embrace Islam? A simple answer is that the elites adopted the new creed and the people followed. But a more complex explanation is that many Nestorian Christians were disgusted by the behavior of their Western comrades.

In 1204 the Crusaders, who lost Jerusalem, turned their fury against Christian Constantinople (now Istanbul). Most of the Crusaders took a pro-Rome stance, but most Asians and Africans were pro-Constantinople. The Great Schism between Western Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy had already erupted over papal authority.

Even worse, in 1209, the Christian Papacy began a crusade to uproot a Christian faith in southern Europe called Albigensians or Catharites, which culminated in the Inquisition.

Genghis Khan likely knew what was going on in Western Asia. He is said to have used 200,000 horses to establish the world's first long-distance communication. His grandson Quibilai was the first in the world to use paper currency in long-distance trade, lasting a remarkable 40 years. Genghis Khan and his Jin adviser Yehlu Chucai laid out a "yasa" (kind of code of governance).

Not only China, but also the Middle East and Africa prospered under the Mongol world empire. The Turkish Ottoman Empire re-established the Sunni Caliphate in 1553. The Persian Empire was rejuvenated through the Shiite Creed. And Babur's Mughal (Mongol) Empire not only built the Taj Mahal, but also gave stability and prosperity to India.

All three empires came about in the 1500s, with the Oceanic Genghis Khan laying the foundation. By contrast, in the 1500s, Europe was tearing itself apart in what the French call "the wars of religion," between minority Protestants and Catholics.

Prof. Schurmann is emeritus professor of history and sociology at U.C. Berkeley and the author of numerous books.  This article originally appeared as "Shamans as Builders of Empires -- The Legacy of Genghis Khan".

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Assyrians at Their Best


Miss ChaldoAssyrian Pageant in Arizona

Assyrian Aid Society
Arizona Chapter

The Assyrian Aid Society of America’s Arizona chapter held its second annual Miss ChaldoAssyria Pagaent on Saturday June 4, 2005 at the Sheraton Hotel in Phoenix. Eleven talented young women, ranging in age from 16 to 21, competed for the title. Contestants shared their thoughts and opinions on topics such as current events and their heritage. The judges panel included Miss Amy Bass (Mrs. Arizona, First Runner Up 2005) and Miss Beth Bobek (Fashion Consultant and Director of Fashion Group International of Arizona).

Natasha Yousif was crowned Miss ChaldoAssyria 2005 by last year’s winner, Tina Youkhana. Ms.Youkhana wore a special dress showing our flag designed by Ms. Marleen Khoshaba. First and second runners up were Ramina Oshana and Stella Youmaran, respectively; Nicole Klyana was chosen as Miss Congeniality by her peers.

During the program our talented young man George Jando provided an outstanding performance that drew every one’s attention.

The event drew approximately five hundred people and netted $7500, which will go towards AAS’s projects in Iraq. The event was also attended by Mrs. Pascal Warda, former Minister of Migration and Displacement in the previous Iraqi Government who was visiting Arizona.

Anyone interested in entering the Mr. and Miss ChaldoAssyria pageant next year may contact Mr. Youkie Khanania at (480) 330-7107.

The Assyrian Aid Society of America Arizona Chapter would like to thank all of the pageant sponsors:

Aseel Murad D.M.D.  Alice Zaia   Arizona Hair Company   Ashur Warda   Bashar Hadad   Best Buy   Bistro Provonce   David Amadin   George Murad   Gianni’s Salon   Jay Youmaran   Johnny Kojo   Karoline Jando   Khana Kilaita   King Gyros   Mortgage Pro USA L.L.C.   Ninos Lazar   Phoenix College of Massage Therapy   Robert Murad   Samano Appraisals   Sean Ceschia   Target   Wilson Engineering   and Zinda Magazine


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Thank You
The following individuals contributed to the publication of this issue:

Fred Aprim (California)
Dr. Matay Arsan (Holland)
David Chibo (Australia)
Mazin Enwiya (Chicago)

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